Robert B. Allen
Mary H. Sanders
James P. McHugh Shawn Romano
Allen, Guthrie & McHugh Huddelston, Bolen, Beatty, Porter
Charleston, West Virginia & Copen
Attorneys for the Appellant Charleston, West Virginia
Attorneys for the Appellees
JUSTICE DAVIS delivered the Opinion of the Court.
JUDGE ROBERT B. STONE, sitting by temporary assignment.
JUSTICE SCOTT did not participate.
A circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.
Syllabus point 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).
2. A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when it is
clear that there is no genuine issue of fact to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not
desirable to clarify the application of the law. Syllabus point 3, Aetna Casualty & Surety
Co. v. Federal Insurance Co. of New York, 148 W. Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).
3. 'One who would defend against tort liability by contending that the injuries were inflicted by an independent contractor has the burden of establishing that he neither controlled nor had the right to control the work, and if there is a conflict in the evidence and there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of the jury, the determination of whether an independent contractor relationship existed is a question for jury determination.' Syllabus point 1, Sanders v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 159 W. Va. 621, 225 S.E.2d 218 (1976). Syllabus point 5, Pasquale v. Ohio Power Co., 187 W. Va. 292, 418 S.E.2d 738 (1992).
4. An owner who engages an independent contractor to perform a job for
him or her may retain broad general power of supervision and control as to the results of the
work so as to insure satisfactory performance of the contract--including the right to inspect,
to stop the work, to make suggestions or recommendations as to the details of the work, or
to prescribe alterations or deviations in the work--without changing the relationship from that
of owner and independent contractor, or changing the duties arising from that relationship.
5. The doctrine of the nonliability of one for the negligence of another
because the latter is an independent contractor does not apply to relieve the former from
liability for the omission of a duty imposed upon him by law in behalf of the safety of the
public. Syllabus point 5, Carrico v. West Virginia Cent. & P. Ry. Co., 39 W. Va. 86, 19
S.E. 571 (1894).
The independent contractor defense is unavailable to a party employing
an independent contractor when the party (1) causes unlawful conduct or activity by the
independent contractor, or (2) knows of and sanctions the illegal conduct or activity by the
independent contractor, and (3) such unlawful conduct or activity is a proximate cause of an
injury or harm.
7. When a statute imposes a duty on a person for the protection of others, it is a public safety statute and a violation of such a statute is prima facie evidence of negligence unless the statute says otherwise. A member of a class protected by a public safety statute has a claim against anyone who violates such a statute when the violation is a proximate cause of injury to the claimant.
8. W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) (1983) (Repl. Vol. 1996) is a public safety statute for which a private cause of action may be maintained for injury or harm resulting from its violation.
Lisa Sue King Shaffer, appellant/plaintiff, (hereinafter referred to as Ms. Shaffer),See footnote 1 1 appeals from an order of the Circuit Court of Greenbrier County granting summary judgment to Acme Limestone Company, Inc., appellee/defendant (hereinafter referred to as Acme). Originally, this action was filed by Ms. Shaffer against three separate defendants: Acme; J.L. Spade Trucking (hereinafter referred to as Spade Trucking); and Jonathan Dale Riffey (hereinafter referred to as Mr. Riffey).See footnote 2 2 The circuit court granted summary judgment to Acme concluding that Acme and Spade Trucking maintained an independent contractor relationship. Therefore, Acme was not liable for the wrongful death caused by Spade Trucking and its employee, Mr. Riffey. In this appeal, Ms. Shaffer contends that factual issues are in dispute as to whether an independent contractor relationship existed between Acme and Spade Trucking. Alternatively, Ms. Shaffer asserts that if an independent contractor relationship existed between Acme and Spade Trucking, certain exceptions to the independent contractor defense exist which preclude summary judgment. Based upon the parties' arguments on appeal, the record designated for appellate review, and the pertinent authorities, we affirm in part, and reverse in part, the decision of the Circuit Court of Greenbrier County.
On December 15, 1997, Virginia Dare Keeling King was killed when the car
she was driving was involved in a collision with a truck owned by Spade Trucking. The
truck was being driven by Mr. Riffey, a Spade Trucking employee. Mr. Riffey failed to stop
at an intersection stop sign and struck the victim's car.See footnote 3
Immediately prior to the accident,
Mr. Riffey had delivered stone to one of Acme's customers. At the time of accident, Mr.
Riffey was returning to Acme with Spade Trucking's empty truck.
After the accident, Ms. Shaffer filed the instant wrongful death action. Ms.
Shaffer alleged that Mr. Riffey's employer, Spade Trucking, was operated and controlled by
Acme. After discovery was completed, Acme moved for summary judgment. The trial court
found that no material issue of fact existed on the issue of Spade Trucking's status as an
independent contractor. Therefore, the circuit court granted summary judgment to Acme.See footnote 4
It is from the summary judgment order that Ms. Shaffer now appeals.
Roughly stated, a genuine issue for purposes of West
Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) is simply one half of a
trialworthy issue, and a genuine issue does not arise unless there
is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a
reasonable jury to return a verdict for that party. The opposing
half of a trialworthy issue is present where the non-moving party
can point to one or more disputed material facts. A material
fact is one that has the capacity to sway the outcome of the
litigation under the applicable law.
Syl. pt. 5, Jividen v. Law, 194 W. Va. 705, 461 S.E.2d 451 (1995).
All reasonable doubts regarding the evidence must be resolved in favor of the non-moving party. A party who moves for summary judgment has the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and any doubt as to the existence of such issue is resolved against the movant for such judgment. Syl. pt. 6, Aetna Cas., 148 W. Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770. Thus, in order for summary judgment to be proper, the movant must demonstrate that there is no evidence to support the non-movant's case and that the evidence is so one-sided that the movant must prevail as a matter of law. Tolliver v. The Kroger Co., 201 W. Va. 509, 513, 498 S.E.2d 702, 706 (1997). Applying this standard of review to the instant case, we shall examine the facts and application of the law to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact to be tried by a jury.
The seminal case establishing the test for whether an independent contractor
relationship exists is Paxton v. Crabtree, 184 W. Va. 237, 400 S.E.2d 245 (1990). In
syllabus point 5 of Paxton, this Court held as follows:
There are four general factors which bear upon whether a master-servant relationship exists for purposes of the doctrine of respondeat superior: (1) Selection and engagement of the servant; (2) Payment of compensation; (3) Power of dismissal; and (4) Power of control. The first three factors are not essential to the existence of the relationship; the fourth, the power of control, is determinative.
Accord Syl. pt. 5, Teter v. Old Colony Co., 190 W. Va. 711, 441 S.E.2d 728 (1994); Syl. pt. 5, Davis v. Fire Creek Fuel Co., 144 W. Va. 537, 109 S.E.2d 144 (1959), overruled on other grounds by Yates v. Mancari, 153 W. Va. 350, 168 S.E.2d 746 (1969). When asserting the independent contractor defense, the employer must first establish that an independent contractor relationship exists. Pasquale, 187 W. Va. at 303 n.16, 418 S.E.2d at 748 n.16. In syllabus point 1 of Myers v. Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, 150 W. Va. 563, 148 S.E.2d 664 (1966), we ruled that [t]o ascertain whether a workman is an employee or an independent contractor each case must be resolved on its own facts and ordinarily no one feature of the relationship is controlling, but all must be considered together. Accord Syl. pt. 2, Barkley v. Workmen's Comp. Comm'r, 164 W. Va. 777, 266 S.E.2d 456 (1980). In the instant case, the circuit court found that Spade Trucking was an independent contractor. On appeal, Ms. Shaffer argues that Paxton's power of control element clearly demonstrates that material issues of fact are in dispute. Therefore, we will not review the first three elements of Paxton.See footnote 5 5 Our analysis will focus solely on the forth element of the Paxton test, power of control.
Ms. Shaffer states that Acme exercised control over Spade Trucking
employees. Regarding the element of control, we have held that [i]f the right to control
or supervise the work in question is retained by the person for whom the work is being done,
the person doing the work is an employee and not an independent contractor, and the
determining factor in connection with this matter is not the use of such right of control or
supervision but the existence thereof in the person for whom the work is being done. Syl.
pt. 2, Spencer v. Travelers Ins. Co., 148 W. Va. 111, 133 S.E.2d 735 (1963). See also Syl.
pt. 2, Myers v. Workmen's Comp. Comm'r, 150 W. Va. 563, 148 S.E.2d 664 (1966) (In
determining whether a workman is an employee or an independent contractor, the controlling
factor is whether the hiring party retains the right to control and supervise the work to be
done). We have also ruled that the '[o]ne who would defend against tort liability by
contending that the injuries were inflicted by an independent contractor has the burden of
establishing that he neither controlled nor had the right to control the work, and if there is a
conflict in the evidence and there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of the jury, the
determination of whether an independent contractor relationship existed is a question for jury
determination.' Syl. Pt. 1, Sanders v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 159 W. Va. 621, 225 S.E.2d
218 (1976). Syl. pt. 5, Pasquale v. Ohio Power Co., 187 W. Va. 292, 418 S.E.2d 738
Ms. Shaffer bases her contention that Acme exercised the power of control over Spade Trucking employees upon the following: (1) Spade Trucking employees arrived routinely at 7:00 in the morning at Acme's facility; (2) Acme directed Spade Trucking employees as to which products to pick-up and deliver; (3) Acme advised Spade Trucking employees when they should load their trucks at the legal weight limit; (4) Acme provided Spade Trucking employees with safety information; (5) Acme required Spade Trucking drivers, when first hired, to undergo safety hazard training; (6) trucks owned by Spade Trucking were loaded by Acme employees; (7) compensation levels for work by Spade Trucking was established by Acme; (8) Spade Trucking employees were required to provide Acme customers with a copy of invoices and to return invoice copies to Acme (9) Acme suggested the routes Spade Trucking employees should take; and (10) when Acme closed its facility each day, the Spade Trucking employees went home.
In contrast, Acme contends that the evidence presented by Ms. Shaffer does not present any disputed genuine issue of material fact, because such evidence does not establish that Acme had the power of control over Spade Trucking within the meaning of Paxton. Acme asserts that the factors cited by Ms. Shaffer are only coordination mechanisms for Acme's operation. In support of its position, Acme asserts that Spade Trucking was hired to transport stone from its quarry. Spade Trucking was not hired to perform any tasks on Acme's property. Acme loaded the trucks and suggested the most economical routes. Spade Trucking employees were free to take any route desired. It was also contended by Acme that the hazard training it required of Spade Trucking employees was imposed by law. We agree with Acme that the factors argued by Ms. Shaffer to show power of control, even if disputed, do not amount to showing power of control within the meaning of Paxton.
The power of control factor refers to control over the means and method of
performing the work. McDonald v. Hampton Training Sch. for Nurses, 254 Va. 79, 81, 486
S.E.2d 299, 301 (1997). Moreover, we follow the lead of numerous other courts in holding
that 'an owner who engages an independent contractor to perform a job for him or her may
retain broad general power of supervision and control as to the results of the work so as to
insure satisfactory performance of the contract--including the right to inspect, to stop the
work, to make suggestions or recommendations as to the details of the work, or to prescribe
alterations or deviations in the work--without changing the relationship from that of owner
and independent contractor, or [changing] the duties arising from that relationship.' Indian
River Foods Inc. v. Braswell, 660 So. 2d 1093, 1098 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4 Dist., 1995)
(emphasis omitted), quoting City of Miami v. Perez, 509 So. 2d 343, 346 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.
3 Dist., 1987).See footnote 6
See also Duplantis v. Shell Offshore, Inc., 948 F.2d 187, 193 (5th. Cir. 1991)
(finding that the fact that a principal took an active interest in the safety of the employees of
the independent contractor did not itself constitute the direct operational control to subject
principal to liability); Hines v. British Steel Corp., 907 F.2d 726, 729-32 (7th Cir. 1990)
(concluding that advisory suggestions to independent contractor not sufficient exercise of the
degree and type of control over those operations necessary to impose a duty of care on the
corporation); Boutwell v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 864 F.2d 406, 408 (5th Cir. 1989)
(determining that the presence of, and inspection by, owner's engineer was insufficient to
establish owner's control during repair of an oil platform); Grammer v. Patterson Serv., Inc.,
860 F.2d 639, 644 (5th Cir. 1988) (holding evidence of operational control over a testing
procedure was insufficient to create jury question where principal's instructions to the
independent contractor were to maximize torque and remove weepholes); Fireman's Fund
Ins. Co. v. Davis, 37 Cal. App. 4th 1432, 1442, 44 Cal. Rptr. 2d 546, 551 (1995)
(recognizing that an owner may retain a broad general power of supervision and control as
to the results of the work so as to insure satisfactory performance of the independent
contract); Hoffnagle v. McDonald's Corp., 522 N.W.2d 808, 813-15 (Iowa 1994) (affirming
summary judgment where franchisor's authority was no more than authority to insure
uniformity in standardization of products and services offered by restaurant); Schoenbeck v.
Du Page Water Comm'n, 607 N.E.2d 693, 697 ( Ill. 1993) (finding evidence did not
demonstrate the level of control that warranted imposition of a duty on defendant, since its
involvement in the work existed only to ensure compatibility with its own system and to
verify costs, not to oversee or direct the actual construction or the safety of the work site);
Ashby v. Northwestern Pub. Svc. Co., 490 N.W.2d 286, 288-89 (S.D.1992) (affirming
summary judgment where defendant had retained only general supervisory control to ensure
In the instant case, Acme engaged Spade Trucking solely for the purpose of
delivering stone. Therefore, to defeat summary judgment, it was necessary for Ms. Shaffer
to present relevant evidence involving Acme's control of Spade Trucking's delivery of stone.
The only evidence presented by Ms. Shaffer on this issue was Acme's suggestion as to the
most economic route to travel by Spade Trucking employees. There was no evidence that
Spade Trucking employees were required to follow Acme's suggested travel route. There
was also no evidence demonstrating a requirement by Acme as to when Spade Trucking's
employees had to return to Acme once deliveries were made. Because Ms. Shaffer failed to
sustain her burden, summary judgment on the issue of power of control was appropriate.
Phillips, 136 W. Va. 761, 68 S.E.2d 452 (1952).
1. Inherently dangerous work. Inherently dangerous work is an exception
to the general rule that an employer is not liable for the negligent conduct of an independent
contractor. We have noted that [t]he dangerous work exception to the independent
contractor defense is that if the employer of the independent contractor knows the work is
hazardous or dangerous, he cannot escape liability. Pasquale, 187 W. Va. at 303 n.18, 418
S.E.2d at 749 n.18. It is generally recognized that [w]ork is intrinsically dangerous if the
risk of injury involved cannot be eliminated or significantly reduced by taking proper
precautions. Shell Oil Co. v. Meyer, 705 N.E.2d 962, 978 (Ind. 1998). We have stated that
[t]his exception to nonliability emerges from the principal's non-delegable duty to exercise
reasonable care when performing the inherently dangerous activity; a duty that the principal
cannot discharge by hiring an independent contractor to undertake the activity. King v. Lens
Creek Ltd. Partnership, 199 W. Va. 136, 143, 483 S.E.2d 265, 271 (1996). The exception
is grounded in a recognition that the possibility of harm to others is so great when the work
activity is inherently dangerous that the law tolerates it only on terms of insuring the public
against injury. We impose vicarious liability under these circumstances to insure that the
public has legal access to a financially responsible party. D.B. Griffen Warehouse, Inc. v.
Sanders, 336 Ark. 456, 465, 986 S.W.2d 836, 840-841 (1999). A cause of action based on
inherently dangerous work was established in syllabus point 3 of King v. Lens Creek Ltd.
To constitute an inherently dangerous activity, the work must be dangerous in and of itself and not dangerous simply because of the negligent performance of the work, and that danger must be naturally apprehended by the parties when they contract. Only then will the work constitute an inherent danger that places a non-delegable duty upon the one ordering it to protect third parties against the resulting injury.See footnote 7 7
In syllabus point 2 of King we also ruled that [a] principal has a non-delegable
duty to exercise reasonable care when performing an inherently dangerous activity; a duty
that the principal cannot discharge by hiring an independent contractor to undertake the
activity. See also Peneschi v. National Steel Corp., 170 W. Va. 511, 521, 295 S.E.2d 1, 12
(1982) (the employer of an independent contractor cannot insulate himself from liability to
third parties for the consequences of the use of abnormally dangerous instrumentalities by
employing an independent contractor).See footnote 8
It has been recognized that in defining inherently dangerous, it is not necessary that the work should involve a major hazard. Rather, [i]t is sufficient if there is a recognizable and substantial danger inherent in the work, as distinguished from a danger collaterally created by the independent negligence of the contractor, which latter might take place on a job itself involving no inherent danger. Woodson v. Rowland, 329 N.C. 330, 351, 407 S.E.2d 222, 235 (1991). Courts have indicated that [i]nherent danger will be found if an activity, or the manner in which an activity is necessarily conducted, poses an unusual and high risk of harm to those involved in the activity or to other persons encountering the activity or its results. Enriquez v. Cochran, 967 P.2d 1136, 1161 (N.M. App. 1998).See footnote 9 9
Moreover, inherently dangerous activity must be of such a nature that in the ordinary course
of events its performance would probably, and not merely possibly, cause injury if proper
precautions were not taken. Florida Power and Light Co. v. Price, 170 So. 2d 293, 295
To support its claim that hauling stone was inherently dangerous, Ms. Shaffer
contends that Acme regularly overloaded Spade Trucking's trucks. As a result of the regular
overloading of Spade Trucking's trucks, the brakes on the truck driven by Mr. Riffey failed.
In fact, Ms. Shaffer presented expert testimony that during a six month period prior to the
accident, 99.5% of Spade Trucking's trucks that were sent to non-state facilities were
Acme asserts that hauling stone is not inherently dangerous, so long as routine
driving precautions are taken. In contrast to Ms. Shaffer's claim, Acme presented expert
testimony indicating that it did not overload Spade Trucking's trucks. Moreover, Acme
argued that the data relied upon by Ms. Shaffer's expert incorrectly assumed the weight
capacity of the trucks. Acme also produced evidence from the investigation of the accident
which indicated that the cause of the accident was Mr. Riffey's intentional decision not to
stop at the stop sign. Acme further points out that at the time of the accident, Mr. Riffey's
truck was empty. Acme cites to this Court's decision in King, where we held that the
operation of an empty logging truck is not in and of itself dangerous so that harm will likely
result if special precautions are not taken[.] King, 199 W. Va. at 142, 483 S.E.2d at 271.
The decision in King also noted that [t]he mere negligent operation of an empty logging
truck does not create the type of danger constituting inherently dangerous activity for which
the principal cannot delegate its duty. Id. We believe the decision in King properly disposes
of this issue. Therefore, summary judgment was proper on this theory of liability.See footnote 10
Williams v. Tenn. River Pulp & Paper, 442 So. 2d 20 (Ala. 1983) (holding that hauling of
pulp timber does not constitute peculiar risk of harm); Morales v. Davis Bros. Constr. Co.,
Inc., 647 So. 2d 1302, 1307 (La. Ct. App. 1994) ([W]e cannot say that the hauling of
clay-based dirt is an ultra-hazardous or inherently dangerous activity which the exception to
the independent contractor rule was intended to cover);Eckard v. Johnson, 235 N.C. 538,
541, 70 S.E.2d 488, 491 (1952) (Nor should the Court characterize the driving of an empty
ton and a half-truck along the highway as an activity involving unusual or unreasonable risk
of harm to Others); Kime v. Hobbs, 252 Neb. 407, 418, 562 N.W.2d 705, 713 (1997) (We
hold that the transportation of cattle in a tractor-trailer under normal conditions is not an
inherently dangerous activity such that it imposes a nondelegable duty on the employer of
an independent contractor to ensure that the cattle are transported in a nonnegligent
manner); Carr v Merrimack Farmers Exch., 101 N.H. 445, 449, 146 A.2d 276, 279 (1958)
(The transportation of baled hay upon a public highway does not fall within this category);
Norris v. Bryant, 60 S.E.2d 844, 848 (S.C. 1950) (It is true that a truck negligently operated
on the highway is a dangerous instrumentality, but no case has been cited which holds that
hauling logs by truck is so inherently dangerous as to make the owner liable for the
negligence of an independent contractor); Burton-Lingo Co. v. Armstrong, 116 S.W.2d 791,
796 (Tex. Ct. App. 1938) (Hauling lumber and material with a motortruck is not
intrinsically dangerous); Mueller v. Luther, 31 Wis. 2d 220, 228, 142 N.W.2d 848, 852-853
(1966) (hauling corn silage was not an inherently dangerous activity). But see, Doak v.
Green, 677 So. 2d 301, 302 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1996) ([I]t was error for the trial court to
conclude as a matter of law that hauling logs was not an inherently dangerous activity).
2. Illegal work. Ms. Shaffer also contends that the work performed by Spade
Trucking for Acme was illegal because Acme routinely overloaded Spade Trucking's trucks.
Consequently, Ms. Shaffer argues that the independent contractor defense is not available as
the illegal work exception to the independent contractor defense has been recognized by this
Court.See footnote 11
We explained in Law v. Phillips, 136 W. Va. at 771, 68 S.E.2d at 458, that an
employer will not be liable for the negligence of an independent contractor where the work
is not in itself unlawful[.] The issue was stated more directly by this Court over one
hundred years ago in syllabus point 5 of Carrico v. West Virginia Cent. & Pac. Ry. Co., 39
W. Va. 86, 19 S.E. 571 (1894):
The doctrine of the nonliability of one for the negligence of another because the latter is an independent contractor does not apply to relieve the former from liability for the omission of a duty imposed upon him by law in behalf of the safety of the public.
Accord Sanders v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 159 W. Va. 621, 626, 225 S.E.2d 218, 221 (1976); Sommerville v. Pennsylvania R.R Co., 151 W. Va. 709, 717-718, 155 S.E.2d 865, 870-871 (1967); Humphries v. Black Betsey Consol. Coal Co., 115 W. Va. 768, 771, 178 S.E. 273, 275 (1934). The obvious import of Carrico and its progeny is that, where the work or service to be performed in itself entails the commission of some illegal . . . act, the [independent contractor defense] obviously cannot apply, because in such instance the principal and the independent contractor both play an integral part, are both proximate causes, of whatever harm ensues. Thomas v. Harrah's Vicksburg Corp., 734 So. 2d 312, 317 (Miss. Ct. App. 1999). The illegal work exception to nonliability requires the knowledge and sanctioning of the illegal act . . . by the owner. Cummings v. Hoosier Marine Properties, Inc., 363 N.E.2d 1266, 1277 (Ind. Ct. App.1977).
Ms. Shaffer argues that by routinely overloading Spade Trucking's trucks with
stone Acme violated W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) (1983) (Repl. Vol. 1996). That statute
generally limits the gross transportation weight of trucks to 80,000 pounds.See footnote 12
As a general
matter, a violation of a statute may be deemed an illegal act. Our cases have long held that,
customarily, a [v]iolation of a statute is prima facie evidence of negligence. Syl. pt. 1, in
part, Anderson v. Moulder, 183 W. Va. 77, 394 S.E.2d 61 (1990). Accord Syl. pt. 3, State
ex rel. Castle v. Perry, 201 W. Va. 90, 491 S.E.2d 760 (1997); Syl. Pt. 1, Reed v. Phillips,
192 W. Va. 392, 452 S.E.2d 708 (1994); Syl. pt. 3, Courtney v. Courtney, 186 W. Va. 597,
413 S.E.2d 418 (1991). The evidentiary requirements for establishing a prima facie case of
negligence were defined in syllabus point 6 of Morris v. City of Wheeling, 140 W. Va. 78,
82 S.E.2d 536 (1954), as follows:
A prima facie case of actionable negligence is that state of facts which will support a jury finding that the defendant was guilty of negligence which was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries, that is, it is a case that has proceeded upon sufficient proof to the stage where it must be submitted to a jury and not decided against the plaintiff as a matter of law.
Accord Syl. pt. 3, Anderson v. Moulder, 183 W. Va. 77, 394 S.E.2d 61 (1990).See footnote 13 13
The court in Ryobi Die Casting v. Montgomery, 705 N.E.2d 227, 230 (Ind. Ct.
App. 1999) addressed the relationship between a statutory violation and the independent
contractor rule as follows:
It must be regarded as well-settled doctrine, first, that, if one upon whom the statute imposes a duty, violates that duty, and the violation results in an injury, he is liable, irrespective of all questions of care and prudence; and, second, that it is no defense to prove that the actual breach of law was committed by a person employed by and acting for him, upon whom the duty rests, if the latter knew of and sanctioned, even if he did not direct, the illegal act.
705 N.E.2d at 230, quoting Prest-O-Lite v. Skeel, 106 N.E. 365, 368 (Ind. 1914).See footnote 14 14 We are persuaded by the reasoning of Ryobi Die Casting v. Montgomery . Therefore, we hold that the independent contractor defense is unavailable to a party employing an independent contractor when the party (1) causes unlawful conduct or activity by the independent contractor, or (2) knows of and sanctions the illegal conduct or activity by the independent contractor, and (3) such unlawful conduct or activity is a proximate cause of an injury or harm.
The evidence presented by Ms. Shaffer's expert revealed that Spade Trucking's trucks routinely carried stone loads greater than the 80,000 pound maximum established by statute. Indeed, Acme's own evidence suggests that it frequently loaded Spade Trucking's trucks in excess of 80,000 pounds. Acme nevertheless contends that it is not liable for Spade Trucking's negligence due to a violation of W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) for two reasons: (1) the hauling capacity of Spade Trucking's trucks and (2) W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) is not a safety statute.
( a) The hauling capacity of Spade Trucking's trucks. Acme presented
evidence to prove that Ms. Shaffer's expert incorrectly assumed that Spade Trucking's trucks
had only a capacity to haul 80,000 pounds. In contrast, Acme produced evidence that Spade
Trucking's trucks had a hauling capacity of 90,000 pounds and that none of Spade
Trucking's trucks ever carried a load greater than 90,000 pounds. Therefore, Acme
contends, W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) was not violated.
Acme's hauling capacity argument is obviously an attempt to circumvent the
statute. Acme asserts that while the statute has a general limitation of 80,000 pounds, such
a statutory limitation is only for trucks with the capacity to carry 80,000 pounds. Thus,
according to Acme, if a truck has the capacity to carry more than 80,000 pounds, the statute
does not restrict carrying a weight greater than 80,000 pounds. This argument is illogical,
absent an applicable statutory exception to W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b). Taken to its fullest
extent, Acme's reading of the statute would mean that, for example, although a highway sign
has a speed limit of 65 miles per hour, if a person's vehicle can operate greater than 65 miles
per hour, the speed limitation has no application. We are unpersuaded by Acme's argument
that W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) has no application to this case because of the hauling
capacity of Spade Trucking's trucks.
(b) W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) as a safety statute. Acme finally contends,
without controlling authority, that the requirement of W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) is
inapplicable to the case because it is not a safety statute. Instead, Acme argues that the
statute is designed to protect the highways from the wear and tear of heavy vehicles.See footnote 15
argument is without merit. We hold that [w]hen a statute imposes a duty on a person for
the protection of others . . . it is a public safety statute and a violation of such a statute is
[prima facie evidence of] negligence . . . unless the statute says otherwise. A member of a
class protected by a public safety statute has a claim against anyone who violates such a
statute when the violation is a proximate cause of injury to the claimant. Hart v. Ivey, 332
N.C. 299, 303, 420 S.E.2d 174, 177 (1992).
This Court has previously held that the State's motor vehicle statutes are public
safety statutes designed for 'the protection of the public highways, and the promotion of
safety in their use.' State ex rel. Dep't. of Transp. v. Sommerville, 186 W. Va. 271, 273,
412 S.E.2d 269, 271 (1991), quoting State v. Chittester, 139 W. Va. 268, 272, 79 S.E.2d
845, 847 (1954) (emphasis added).See footnote 16
Indeed, we expressly held in syllabus point 11 of Price
v. Halstead, 177 W. Va. 592, 355 S.E.2d 380 (1987), that [t]he violation of a provision of
our motor vehicle statutes is prima facie evidence of negligence.See footnote 17
See Wheeler v. Murphy,
192 W. Va. 325, 336 n.5, 452 S.E.2d 416, 427 n.5 (1994); Craig v. Schell, 975 P.2d 820, 825
(Mont. 1999) (the violation of a statute enacted for the safety of the public, including one
which regulates the operation of motor vehicles on the public highways, is negligence per
se); Totsky v. Riteway Bus Svc., Inc., 220 Wis. 2d 889, 899, 584 N.W.2d 188, 192 (1998)
(holding violation of a safety statute constitutes negligence per se).See footnote 18
In summary, we hold that W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b) is a public safety statute
for which a private cause of action may be maintained for injury or harm resulting from its
violation. Our holding on this issue does not, in and of itself, resolve the issue of summary
judgment. As previously indicated, Ms. Shaffer presented evidence that Acme routinely
overloaded Spade Trucking's trucks. Acme did not present evidence to contradict the issue
and, in fact, presented its own evidence which suggested it knowingly overloaded Spade
Trucking's trucks. This showing precluded application of the independent contractor
defense, because such conduct was unlawful insofar as Acme knew the trucks would be
placed on the State's highways in violation of W. Va. Code § 17C-17-9(b). There is a
plausible connection in this case between Acme's overloading of the trucks and the alleged
brake failure of the truck involved in the accident. It is this connection between the
overloading and purported brake failure that we find precluded summary judgment.
Therefore, we now turn to the issue of the alleged brake failure.
During summary judgment, Ms. Shaffer presented expert testimony by Dr.
Russell Rex Haynes, Ph.D., on the issue of defective brakes. Dr. Haynes opined that the
truck overloading by Acme may have led to a defective brake system on the truck involved
in the accident. It was Dr. Haynes' opinion that the defective brake system affected Mr.
Riffey's ability to stop the truck which would have lessened the severity of the collision. Dr.
Haynes was of the opinion that the defective brake system caused the stopping power of the
truck to be reduced by approximately one-half.
Acme countered the testimony of Dr. Haynes on two fronts. First, Acme
argued that Dr. Haynes' opinion was purely speculative. Acme contends that Dr. Haynes
opined that there were three possible causes for the defective brake system and that truck
overloading was only one possibility. Second, Acme presented testimony from Public
Service Commission inspector, Lee R. Dean, who opined that there was no defect in Mr.
Riffey's brake system before the accident. Mr. Dean further testified that, while there may
have been some damage to the brake system, the damage may have been caused by the
We believe the testimony of Dr. Haynes, the interpretation Acme seeks to place on that testimony, and the testimony of Mr. Dean, create material issues of fact in dispute. Summary judgment should be granted only where material issues of fact are not in dispute.See footnote 20 20
We have previously ruled that [s]ummary judgment should be denied 'even where there is
no dispute as to the evidentiary facts in the case but only as to the conclusions to be drawn
therefrom.' Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W. Va. 52, 59, 459 S.E.2d 329, 336
(1995), quoting Pierce v. Ford Motor Co., 190 F.2d 910, 915 (4th Cir. 1951).
Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.
In order for the rule stated in this Section to apply, the employer must
have retained at least some degree of control over the manner in which the
work is done. It is not enough that he has merely a general right to order the
work stopped or resumed, to inspect its progress or to receive reports, to make
suggestions or recommendations which need not necessarily be followed, or
to prescribe alterations and deviations. Such a general right is usually reserved
to employers, but it does not mean that the contractor is controlled as to his
methods of work, or as to operative detail. There must be such a retention of
a right of supervision that the contractor is not entirely free to do the work in
his own way.
One who by statute or by administrative regulation is under a duty to provide specified safeguards or precautions for the safety of others is subject to liability to the others for whose protection the duty is imposed for harm caused by the failure of a contractor employed by him to provide such safeguards or precautions.
The following is the appropriate test to determine when a State statute gives rise by implication to a private cause of action: (1) the plaintiff must be a member of the class for whose benefit the statute was enacted; (2) consideration must be given to legislative intent, express or implied, to determine whether a private cause of action was intended; (3) an analysis must be made of whether a private cause of action is consistent with the
underlying purposes of the legislative scheme; and (4) such
private cause of action must not intrude into an area delegated
exclusively to the federal government.
As indicated in the body of this opinion, prior decisions of this Court have determined that civil liability may be imposed from a violation of our motor vehicle statute.
The rationale behind this rule is that when an issue has
not been raised below, the facts underlying that issue will not
have been developed in such a way so that a disposition can be
made on appeal. Moreover, we consider the element of fairness.
When a case has proceeded to its ultimate resolution below, it is
manifestly unfair for a party to raise new issues on appeal.
Finally, there is also a need to have the issue refined, developed,
and adjudicated by the trial court, so that we have the benefit of
Whitlow, 190 W. Va. at 226, 438 S.E.2d at 18. We, therefore, decline to address this assignment of error.